Leaders in conservation gathered at the Area V Meeting of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts held in Wilburton on November 14 to address budgetary challenges faced by conservation districts across the state as well as discuss new trends in conservation such as prescribed burn associations springing up to combat wildfire, and the implementation of cover crops to maintain healthy, living soil throughout the year.
Latimer Conservation District hosted the meeting, sponsored by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and cosponsored by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). More than 100 people attended.
OACD Executive Director, Clay Pope, opened the event by briefly setting the meeting’s theme, “Locally Led, Not Federally Dead.”
In light of the recent government shutdown, which left many conservation district employees unable to access critical work equipment and working out of their homes or public libraries, Pope urged districts to work towards greater self-sufficiency and be better prepared to service conservation customers in the event of another possible shutdown in January.
Steve Alspach, NRCS Assistant State Soil Scientist gave a presentation on the NRCS Soil Health Initiative, which returns conservation’s focus back to where agriculture begins, the soil.
The presentation illustrated the tremendous gains in soil health that can be achieved by maintaining cover crops that promote cooler soil, greater water absorption, and increased nutrient retention.
The presentation was followed by a firsthand account on the benefits of conservation practices from local producer, Yates Adcock.
Russell Stevens, OPBA Interim Executive Director/Noble Foundation Consultant, gave a presentation on the history and current state of the Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA), which utilizes planned burning practices to reduce the danger presented by wildfire and control invasive plant species.
A budget panel of OCC Executive Director, Mike Thralls, OCC District Services and Human Resources Director, Lisa Knauf Owen, OACDE Vice President, Paula Templeton and Latimer County Conservation District Manager, Donna Hanebrink provided an outline of the current budget challenges facing the conservation partnership as well as ways districts might move forward in light of receiving less funding.
In part an answer to tightening budgets, OCC Public Information Officer, Robert Hathorne, discussed the Commission’s new communications strategy, which aims to provide better support to districts and increase the effectiveness of their communications even as funding and staffing decrease.
Following an update on the efforts of the OCC Blue Thumb volunteer water monitoring program, OCC Director of Water Quality, Shanon Phillips discussed certainty programs, which would protect landowners who have implemented conservation practices from further regulation for an agreed upon length of time.
Phillips detailed an upcoming survey for landowners which will help determine if a certainty program is worth moving forward with in Oklahoma.
Area winners of the OACD Conservation Awards were recognized in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy; and Outstanding District Director, sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; and Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma.
The state winner will be recognized at the OACD State Meeting March 2-4, 2014, at the Reed Center in Midwest City.
Directors and staff of the Bryan Conservation District attended the Area V Meeting. District directors who attended included Jeff Brown, Clay Jones and Sam Smith, Conservation District staff attending was Debbie Brewster, District Secretary.
Local NRCS staff attending from the Durant Field Office was Valerie Hannon, District Conservationist.
The OACD Area Meetings include contests cosponsored by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation District Employees (OACDE) for youth in categories of speeches, essays and posters.
Oklahoma Farmers Royalty Company sponsors awards for the OACD/OACDE Awards. First place winners in the essay and poster contests, as well as first and second place winners in the speech contest, are eligible to compete at the state level during OACD’s Annual State Meeting.